Yalim's Lodge

On Wearing a Suit

Here are five reasons why it might be a good idea wearing a suit to a business meeting with people you’ve never met before.

It is the universally accepted dress code for meetings
There is a proper attire for every social event. If you go to the beach, you are expected to wear a swimsuit while you are swimming. Wearing a tuxedo while swimming would be ridiculous. Doctors are expected to wear a white apron in the presence of patients. It would be weird if they still wear the apron in bed. Similarly, if you are having a first time business meeting with anyone, the safest way to play it is to wear a suit. Then, depending on the personality of the people you are meeting with, you can dress down in the next meetings.

It will never work against you
However, if you are under dressed, it may work against you. A business meeting with a client you’ve just met is not the place to make a statement about your life style. You have your personal time for that.

Scientifically it is the right thing to do
Transactional Analysis divides how people spend their time into six categories. A business meeting falls under the 4th category of time structuring, called Work. During Work, people focus on accomplishing a certain goal, together. Getting any deeper than that and trying to be more intimate is not expected and may unpleasantly surprise the other party especially if you’ve just only met.

Sometimes a suit is just a suit
Some people worry that wearing a suit will give them a suck-up or a too desperate look. This is just reflections of inner fears. There is no correlation between wearing a suit and one’s lack of self-esteem. Dressing up does not make you less confident (or more confident for that matter). By that logic, homeless people with shabby clothes must have the highest self esteem among all of us.

It might just look good on you
Hey, you never know…

Yalım K. Gerger (@yalimgerger)

  • http://www.facebook.com/maximgurvits Maxim Gurvits

    First time suit has always worked for me. And in 99% of the cases, I dress down afterwards.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Yes exactly. Why take the risk?

  • http://www.vilepickle.com David

    Luckily my office is business professional so I get to wear this type of attire daily :)

  • Anonymous

    Suit up!

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Wearing a suit daily might be a little too much for me. However, I must admit that it removes the “What should I wear to work today?” question from one’s life.

  • Petr Swedock

    In my experience, the two most cited reasons for not wearing a suit, or indeed any sort of ‘formal’ attire, are a desire for comfort and a wish to avoid conformism.

    On comfort: There is a absurdly tenacious notion that suits are always uncomfortable. However, at one point in time, and until relatively recently, all clothing was tailored, either by yourself if you were able, or by a professional. This is, in fact, the most comfortable mode of clothing: a well tailored suit fits like a second skin and will not only wear well throughout most of a given day, will not actively discomfort you. Most people today buy “off the rack” and do not make alterations which is an abysmally poor means of purchasing and wearing clothes; a poor fit early in a given day will become an active annoyance and a downright liability as the day goes on. And so ‘comfort’ these days is defined as that which doesn’t constrict.

    On conformism: I don’t own a white shirt. It’s remarkable how much this makes you stand out against most others suits. I’ve had to increase the variety and styles of the ties I might wear with the variety of colored shirts I have, and I’ve had to make sure the suits and ties and shirts worked well together, but it hasn’t been particularly onerous.

  • xew

    You contradict yourself when you say that “during Work, people focus on accomplishing a certain goal, together”. Because then, why would it matter to wear a suit if the only important thing is what gets done? The only limit I see is hygiene.

    You also use extreme examples to support the argument that “there is a proper attire for every social event.”. It is obvious why one would not “[wear] a tuxedo while swimming”. It wouldn’t help swimming, it would be uncomfortable, and probably damage the suit. I won’t even talk about the second comparison… This kind of logic is flawed, and when you use it to make a point, it just works against you, because it feels like you have nothing better to say.

    As for the fact that you are expected to wear a suit at a first meeting, I don’t see any reason to simply accept this kind of social rules. I am not trying to be a rebel, and I agree that “a business meeting with a client you’ve just met is not the place to make a statement about your life style”, nor about your political opinion for that matter. The reason why I don’t want to comply with this is that I don’t judge people on their look, and I hope others will do the same with me. My knowledge and skills are not in my suit. I understand the fact that it makes a good impression on a first meeting, but judging someone on a first impression is simply idiotic.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    On Comfort: I completely agree. A suit is not uncomfortable at all if it fits well. And as a bonus, you may look good.

    On Confirmism: I think a person can be against conformism and that’s OK. But the first meeting with a client is not the proper place to make a life style statement. I suspect people that do that have a tendency to subconsciously undercut themselves.

    As the saying goes. When in Rome, do as Romans do.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    I understand that you don’t form an opinion based on how people are dressed but the person you are meeting may, which is all that matters if you want a successful meeting.

    People form an opinion about strangers in the first few minutes they meet. This is just human nature. In this short amount of time we have very little information to process. All we have the is the face, the voice, the first few words, gestures and the attire. This is why a genuine smile is far more important than anything else when meeting someone the very first time.

    If your dress differs significantly from what the client was expecting from someone in your position in the meeting, you are undercutting yourself for no good reason.

    You may disagree with their point of view. However, you have to respect it, if you want to sell soap to them.

    As the saying goes. When in Rome, do as Romans do.

  • Anonymous

    A friend once said – if I’m looking for money (i.e. visiting customers) I wear a suit. If *they’re* looking for money (i.e. a visit from your supplier) – not necessarily :-) )
    Actually it can also depend quite a bit on the local culture etc. I’ve seen two very successful VC’s mentoring at Seedcamp (one in Ljubljana and the other – Dave McClure – in London) wearing flipflops. Didn’t bring a suit with me to Seedcamp Week in London and didn’t miss it one bit.
    Also, Yalim, my understanding is that you’re dealing mainly with enterprise customers who are Oracle users. Those would presumably be bankers, gov’t types, telcos etc. Yes – those would be the right places to go with a suit on.
    So – it depends. But yes – very often in business it’s the way to go. Personally, I try to judge the occasion / meeting / person ahead of time and dress accordingly.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Yes absolutely, for events like Seedcamp, the dress code is “No Frontal Nudity”. We all know the attitude of that community. What I am referring to is a first time business meeting with a client. True, I mostly deal with enterprises or ISV’s that deal with enterprises. Wearing a suit is a very good idea in my case :-) . I dress down once I get to know the other party and think it would be appropriate to do so.

    However what I observe from some people is that they have an unfounded resistance to wear a suit even if the situation clearly calls for it. Just look at the comments for this post on HN at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3000034 and the HN Poll here http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2999199

    It seems to me that these guys are undercutting themselves subconsciously.

  • Gary Myers

    As a counterpoint, my brother-in-law is a graphic designer and never wears suits. Apparently clients (or potential clients) see the ‘conformity’ of a suit as a drawback in that profession.

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